Feb. 27, 2009
While many student-athletes would like to compete and be at the top of their game far past their collegiate careers, there comes a time when just about every athlete passes their prime and has to turn a page in their lives.
Count Aleks Perka among that number.
Sure, he would like to extend his basketball playing career beyond this, his senior season at Rice University. As a native of Warsaw, Poland, there well may be opportunities to pursue his playing career, and in particular, in the country he was born. But like so many student-athletes at Rice, Perka is already looking ahead and past a competitive career on the court.
Perka, a member of Lovett College, is majoring in sports management and working toward a minor in sociology. He carries a 3.00 grade point average at Rice.
This past summer he had the opportunity to get an inside look at sports and entertainment marketing while serving as a marketing intern at Sam Houston Race Park in Houston. The venue is known as much for its concert series held at The Showgrounds outdoor theater located in the track's infield as it is for live horse racing seasons.
"There were two distinct groups of customers at the track," Perka said. "There was the horse racing crowd and then there were the customers coming for the concerts. In an effort to grow attendance at the track, we worked to try to incorporate the two."
One of Perka's projects during the internship was to gather demographic information about visitors to the track in an effort to see where fans were from and how the track could better market to both groups. One way Perka and the rest of the marketing staff captured information was utilizing a booth where fans could sign up for opportunities to win future concert tickets. In turn, Perka was able to track the venue's guests and pinpoint demographical information he used in a report to the track's department heads.
Working for a small company, Perka said he was able to spend time with several departments from ticket sales to media relations. From working at the track, he said he could see parallels to the basketball games at Rice.
"As a basketball player at Rice, you come on game night and you play but you don't see what happens before hand," Perka said. "You don't see what goes in to setting everything up from marketing the event to getting the arena ready for game night. The internship gave me an appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes for an event or for a concert to be successful."
Perka grew up around sports. His father, Wiodzimierz, was a high jumper for the Polish National team while his mother, Delfina, was a member of the Polish National and Olympic fencing teams.
The Perka family moved to the United States when Aleks was three. The junior Perka caught on to fencing and has played basketball since he was a youngster. The family has returned to Poland several times but because of his time requirements, he has not been back since he enrolled at Rice.
With so many relatives still living Poland and having grown up experiencing the Polish way of life, Perka looks forward to opportunities to return.
"The times I have been, it is so different than America," he said. "The culture there is so rich. It is something I sometimes miss. I only get to speak Polish when I am at home with my parents. To have an opportunity to go back where I was born and see where my parents came from is special."
Perka speaks fluent Polish but a return to Poland would mean picking up the latest slang.
"With not being there, my Polish has not caught up with the times," he said.
Still, being able to speak the language would put Perka at an advantage playing in Poland.
"Paulius Packevicius, who played at Rice last year, is now playing in Italy. He doesn't speak Italian so it has got to be hard to do the little things," Perka said. "Things outside the little bubble of basketball such as getting food have to be difficult. If I was able to get an opportunity to play in Poland, it would be an easy transition for me to the way of life there."
Whether it is through the cultural awareness that comes from living in a foreign country or the sports marketing knowledge he has recently gained both through his internship and in the classroom, there is no doubt Perka is destined to be one of tomorrow's leaders.